Building called threat to butterflies

by: DENNIS YUSKO Staff writer

CLIFTON PARK — A 142,000-square-foot facility proposed by DCG Development along Wood Road would further undermine the area’s endangered Karner blue butterfly habitats, town residents and area environmentalists told the Planning Board. DCG wants to build a warehouse or a light industrial space on 37 acres its owns between the east side of Wood Road and Route 9.

"We don’t know who the tenants are at this point," said Gordon Nicholson, who represented DCG at a recent public hearing.

A segment of the property and areas DCG owns on the west side of Wood Road are two of a limited number of Karner blue habitats in the Capital Region, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Karner blues are an endangered species whose habitat in New York is limited to the Albany-Saratoga region.

Nicholson told the Planning Board that studies of the 37-acre property completed last year indicated the presence of 15 blue lupine plants, the Karner blue butterfly’s main food source, but no Karner blues.

DCG would be willing to set aside approximately one acre as a preserve for the species as part of the development plan and monitor the location for sightings, Nicholson said.

That didn’t impress most of the dozen or so speakers at the meeting. Many, like Lynn Jackson of Albany’s Save the Pine Bush, opposed the DCG project.

Jackson argued that the town needs to conduct more environmental reviews of the property. The Planning Board should require DCG to prepare a plan to restore the butterflies to the site, and since DCG has hinted at developing the west side of Wood Road, a cumulative study of the impacts of developing both sides of the road should be considered now, Jackson said.

Development within 200 meters of the habitats could render them inhospitable, she said.

"A one-acre preserve is totally inadequate to sustain the habitat and butterflies," Jackson said.

Barbara Murphy, a town resident for 40 years, said wiping out a species could have unknown consequences. "The profit motive can’t be behind every action we consider," Murphy said.

Nicholson said traffic studies indicate the project would have a minimal impact on the Wood Road-Route 9 intersection.

The opposition to the 142,000-square-foot structure is the latest in a series of fights between DCG and area environmentalists over the Karner blues.

In January, Save The Pine Bush and 22 area residents petitioned DEC’s general counsel, James Ferreira, asking him to enforce a 1994 agreement the state agency made with DCG to protect the Karner blue butterflies off Wood Road.

Ferreira declined "because a declaratory ruling is an inappropriate means of resolving the issues raised in the petition," according to a statement. The agency and DCG attorneys are presently discussing measures that "may lead to permanent conservation of the Karner blue habitat in question," Ferreira wrote.

In January 2005, Save the Pine Bush, the Audubon Society and Sierra Club accused the Town Board of mismanaging its Karner blue butterfly habitats and urged it to rezone the habitats in light industrial zones to halt fragmentation. No action was taken.

David Gibson of Ballston Lake, conservation chairman for Audubon New York, called the town’s stewardship "disheartening." "Communication has been difficult," he said.

The Planning Board took no action on the application.

It will take it up at a future meeting after completing due diligence with all the project’s stakeholders, board member Scott Hughes said.